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Too Big To Fail: Millennials on the Margins PIAAC

Sands, Anita M.; Goodman, Madeline
Publication Year:
Report of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Millennials, Young Adults, Human Capital, Workplace Skills, Cognitive Skills, Programme for International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Literacy Skills, Numeracy Skills, Gender Differences, School-to-Work Transition, Social Capital, Racial and Ethnic Differences, Native Language


In Too Big to Fail: Millennials on the Margins, Sands and Goodman return to the question of how skills are distributed across the millennial population, focusing on the size and demographic characteristics of U.S. millennials with low literacy and numeracy skills, and the resulting impact on social and economic outcomes. They do this in part by examining the issue of "disconnected youth," a term typically applied to those ages 16-24 who are not employed or engaged in formal education or training. Since the Great Recession of 2008, researchers have become increasingly concerned with these disconnected youth who, according to some estimates, represent approximately 6 million young adults in the United States. The focus of this research has been on their educational attainment and labor market participation. While helpful, this approach is limited in two ways. First, it focuses on only our youngest adults at a time when the transition to adulthood is more prolonged. Second, it is based on the premise that employment and/or more education are assured catalysts for entry into the middle class and improving life outcomes. The authors question whether this assumption is appropriate to current circumstances; they suggest that looking at young adults only in terms of ties to the labor market or formal education may underestimate the scope of the challenges that we face and may skew our understanding of the policies needed to alter our course.

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